An entrepreneur’s life is tough and unpredictable. Often, you are faced with many doubts and challenges. At times, you even find yourself lurching from problem to problem! Against this backdrop, having a mentor or two on board your venture can benefit you tremendously.
A mentor is a priceless resource for any company, especially for companies that are in the startup stage. However, in India finding a good mentor is difficult. In fact, I’d even say that entrepreneurs in India can probably access funding more easily than they can find good mentors!
A good mentor can add enormous value to an enterprise. If an entrepreneur can benefit from mentoring, his/her chances of success (and the scale of success) are very likely to be higher than otherwise. At a nationwide level therefore, we need thousands of very good mentors to support our booming base of entrepreneurs. This is true especially now, when the startup scene in India is seeing explosive action.
As an entrepreneur, you may be wondering: ‘how exactly will a mentor add value to my company?’
Here is how.
He will hold a mirror to your business: A mentor will objectively assess the state of your business and the direction in which it is headed. He will bring in an unbiased point of view. In doing so, he will act as a mirror, reflecting the state of your business exactly as it is: warts, moles, blemishes and all. He will identify what’s right and what’s wrong with your business (or the business plan, depending on when exactly the mentor is brought on board) and help you fix things that need to be fixed.
If there is something wrong with the business (such as a weak process, poor accounting standards, and a bad marketing plan, whatever) he will point it out to you and nudge you to take corrective action.
He will ask you tough questions: From time to time, the mentor acts as an examiner who poses tough questions to you, the entrepreneur. Not to needle and rattle you, but to really get you thinking about improving things in your company. If the mentor does not perform this role diligently, complacency will most likely set in, giving you and your team the feeling that all is well, when actually all may not be well.
A mentor’s questions could pertain to the business model itself, the definition of target customers, the customer acquisition cost, the delivery times and SLAs, the time taken for the business to break-even, the extent of capital investment needed, the systems and processes being adopted, ….anything. For instance, I have seen mentors advise entrepreneurs to temporarily apply brakes on their efforts to develop the ‘perfect’ product and instead, go get their first set of paying customers.
He will make you step back: Because you have your nose to the grind always — operationally speaking — the mentor will pull you back a step every now and then, and make you see the big picture. He will help you look at the changes that are happening around you, which may have a bearing on your business. For instance, changes in consumer mindset, distribution channels, technology, law, etc. could all affect business and so, have to be constantly factored into your planning.
He will open doors for you: As an entrepreneur, one of the biggest roadblocks you will face is a lack of professional contacts such as domain experts, service providers and potential employees. For instance, your business may need a website designer, an auditor, contacts in prospective client companies and an event manager, not to mention an investor. The mentor can make a few calls and put you in touch with the relevant agencies and people. It is up to you to take it from there.
He will push the bar higher: Entrepreneurs are often an unsure lot. While they want to make it big, deep down they are not sure if they will manage to achieve REALLY BIG goals. They are not sure how much to push themselves. A good mentor will demolish this self-doubt, instill large doses of confidence in the entrepreneur and make him push the bar really high. As the saying goes, it is only when you aim for the stars that you will reach at least the moon.
He will share his value system with you: A good value system and work ethic are most important to a fledgling organization. If set up early, they can take the organisation a long way. They help maintain a clean and healthy working environment. A mentor will share his professional value system with you and to the extent relevant, and get you to incorporate it in your organisation.
He will motivate you and make you laugh: All the grind has to be balanced with large doses of humour. A mentor with a sense of humour can indeed be a great asset to your business. His joie de vivre is likely to rub off on you and your team, with the result that all of you unwind once in a while and keep celebrating successes along the way. You will even learn to laugh hysterically at your mistakes and move on. All this eases the working atmosphere tremendously and helps you retain your sanity.
The mentor will also pat you on the back once in a while for a job well done or for a milestone achieved, thereby egging you on further.
He will teach you patience: The quest for success and for greatness is often really long. You will have to weather many a storm and keep digging deeper into your reserves of strength, creativity and resilience. A mentor’s sagacity will prove invaluable at such times. He will urge you not to fret (which is anyway useless), but to keep chipping away patiently.
The mentor has a big role to play in calibrating your tempo, curbing your impatience and helping you keep the faith.
In sum, a good mentor keeps his cross-hairs firmly on the interests of the business and from time to time, gives you the necessary inputs. And so, if you haven’t brought a mentor or two on board your company yet, do it right away!
(In referring to mentors, I have used the masculine gender merely for ease of writing and not because of a gender bias!)